Recreational and charter fishing

​Recreational fishing is a popular activity that contributes economic and social benefits to the Australian economy, particularly in regional areas. The most recent national recreational fishing survey estimates that about 3.4 million Australians engage in recreational fishing each year, directly contributing an estimated $1.8 billion to the economy (Campbell & Murphy 2005; Henry & Lyle 2003).

Some industries depend on the recreational fishing sector either wholly (the fishing tackle and bait industry and the fishing tour and charter industry) or for a large proportion of their income (the recreational boating industry and the tourism industry in coastal regions). In 2003, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) estimated that the sector supports about 90,000 Australian jobs (ABS 2003). Campbell and Murphy (2005) estimated that recreational fishers spent $223 million on fishing gear, tackle and bait in the 12 months to May 2000 (including second-hand purchases). In contrast, Dominion Consulting (2005) estimated that the value of retail sales in the tackle and bait industry in 2003–04 was $665 million. For the recreational boating industry, annual turnover was estimated at around $500 million, of which 60 per cent related to fishing (ABS 2003).

Individual state and territory authorities are responsible for managing recreational and charter fishing in Australia. Recreational fishers are not required to report their activities to fishery management agencies. However, in some states charter operators report the total catch and fishing effort of tour groups as a condition of their licence.

Some states require that recreational fishers be licensed and that anglers carry their licences while fishing.

Estimating the catch and harvest of fish by recreational fishers depends on surveys of the general population and targeted surveys of fishers who can be contacted through licence details or at known locations where fishers commonly have access to fish stocks.\

State and territory governments use controls on fish size, bag limits, gear restrictions and seasonal and area closures to regulate recreational catches.

Licensing requirements and regulations vary considerably between jurisdictions and often depend on location within a jurisdiction, the fishing method used and the species targeted.

It is difficult to estimate the economic value of the recreational sector because, unlike commercial fishers who sell their catch on markets, recreational fishers do not have to pay for fish caught recreationally. They therefore do not reveal the associated value they gain from catching fish. Although non-market valuation techniques are available to estimate the value of recreational fisheries, these techniques are often costly to apply. Such recreational values cannot be easily compared with gross value of production measures used for valuing the commercial sector. For these reasons, estimates of the economic value of recreational fishing are often not available.

One of the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation Recfishing research priorities for 2015 was ‘estimating the economic value of recreational fishing in Australia, and its social contribution to Australian communities through employment and volunteering’ (Recfishing Research 2015). The Australian Government has committed to conducting a recreational fishing survey every five years to collect data on the social and economic impact of recreational fishing (Liberal Party of Australia 2013). A framework for regular national recreational fishing surveys was published in November 2015 (Georgeson et al. 2015).

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Comprehensive national recreational fisheries statistics are not available for recent years. The last Australia-wide survey of the sector was the 2000–01 National Recreational and Indigenous Fishing Survey (NRIFS), conducted by Commonwealth and state/territory fishery management agencies (Henry & Lyle 2003). The study used a telephone screening survey of the general population (March to April 2000) to estimate the number of recreational fishers in each state and territory and a diary survey of recreational fishers (May 2000 to April 2001) to gather information on the extent of their activities.

The survey results indicated that 3.4 million fishers participated in recreational fishing in the 12 months to May 2000. Estimated expenditure on services and items related to recreational fishing was $1.8 billion over the diary survey period. New South Wales had the largest expenditure ($554 million), followed by Victoria ($396 million) and Queensland ($320 million). The annual average expenditure per fisher was highest in Victoria at $721 per fisher, followed by Western Australia ($706 per fisher) and the Northern Territory ($608 per fisher). The national average was $552 per fisher per year.

Since 2001, the NRIFS survey methodology has been repeated in some states and the Northern Territory, although not in concurrent time frames. A comparison of key participation and fishing effort data from the NRIFS and subsequent statewide surveys shows that the states where the surveys have recently been repeated have recorded a moderate reduction in numbers of resident fishers and a more pronounced reduction in participation rate and total days spent fishing. With the exception of the 2009–10 Northern Territory survey, the recent statewide surveys do not include data on expenditure by fishers.

New South Wales

In New South Wales, a recreational fishing licence is needed for all recreational fishing activities. Size and bag limits apply for many species, as do gear restrictions and area/seasonal closures. Separate recreational fishing rules apply for saltwater and freshwater fishing. Size limits, catch limits and area and seasonal closures are the primary management measures for these categories. Operators in the charter boat sector must hold a licence and maintain comprehensive catch records. People under the age of 18, Pensioner Concession Card holders and Indigenous people are exempt from the requirement to hold a recreational fishing licence.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries conducted a survey of recreational fishers in the Greater Sydney region of New South Wales for two years from March 2007 (Steffe & Murphy 2011). The survey provided estimates of fishing effort and catch for common recreational species in marine and estuarine fisheries in the region, by location and for the region as a whole. The NSW Department of Primary Industries conducted a 2013–14 recreational fishing survey using the same methodology as the 2000–01 NRIFS. The survey estimated that 849,249 NSW and ACT residents participated in fishing in the 12 months to June 2013 (a participation rate of 12 per cent). More males than females fished, with the male participation   rate 17 per cent compared with 7 per cent for females. The highest number of fishers were between 30 and 44 years of age. The highest participation rate of any age group was 20 per cent for 5–14-year-olds (West et al. 2016). For more information about recreational fishing in New South Wales, see the NSW Department of Primary Industries website.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries has collected data on game fishing tournaments since the early 1990s (Park 2007). Catch and effort data are collected from scheduled radio reports routinely broadcast during tournaments, and more detailed data are collected from tournament results and post-fishing interviews with game fishers.


An all-water recreational fishing licence is required for such activities in Victoria. Some recreational fisheries in the state are exempt, but limits and closures still apply. People under 18 years of age or 70 years of age or over are exempt from the requirement to hold a recreational fishing licence.

Fisheries Victoria ran the Statewide Angler Diary Program between 1997 and 2006 to collect statistics on Victorian recreational fishing (Bridge & Conron 2010). A time series of catch rates and size composition information was generated for four key target species in four fishing regions of interest to Fisheries Victoria:

  • snapper in Port Phillip Bay and Western Port
  • King George whiting in Port Phillip Bay and Western Port
  • black bream in the Gippsland Lakes
  • rainbow and brown trout in the Goulburn River.

Angler diary programmes are run in selected inland and estuarine water bodies where monitoring is required under fishery management plans (Conron et al. 2012). From March to July 2011, Fisheries Victoria conducted a survey of fishers targeting southern bluefin tuna in western Victoria. During interviews at boat ramps and while gathering catch, fishers were asked about fishing effort and size composition of retained southern bluefin tuna.

Although a pilot statewide telephone diary survey was tested in 2006, there are no recent statewide estimates of participation, catch and fishing effort for Victorian recreational fishers that can be compared with the 2000–01 NRIFS. For more information about recreational fishing in Victoria, see the Agriculture Victoria website.


Recreational fishers are not required to hold a licence to fish in Queensland waters. However, anglers over the age of 18 must buy a permit to fish in certain Queensland dams. The state government sets minimum and maximum size limits on some species.
The 2011 report Prospects for Queensland’s primary industries 2011–12 estimates that the commercial equivalent for recreational catch and recreational fishing expenditure in Queensland is $73 million and more than $400 million, respectively (Queensland DEEDI 2011).

The 2013–14 Statewide Recreational Fishing Survey performed by Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries collected reliable estimates of recreational participation rates, statewide and regional annual catch, common species caught by recreational fishers and regions where recreational fishing activities took place.

The survey results estimate that 15 per cent of Queenslanders aged five years and over had engaged in recreational fishing. The survey combined diary and telephone surveys to collect high-quality data over 12 months (Queensland DAFF 2015). For more information about recreational fishing in Queensland, see the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry website.

South Australia

Recreational fishers are not required to hold a licence to fish in South Australian waters, but registered rock lobster pots must be used to catch southern rock lobster for personal use. Minimum size limits, bag limits, vessel limits, gear restrictions   and area and seasonal closures apply for many recreational species. Charter vessel operators must hold a charter boat fishery licence and are also subject to these restrictions.

In 2013–14, a recreational fishing survey was conducted that provided estimates of recreational fisher participation levels, demographics and fishing effort (Giri & Hall 2015). The survey estimated that 277,027 South Australian residents engaged in recreational fishing in the 12 months prior to November 2013 (a participation rate of 18 per cent). For more information about recreational fishing in South Australia, see the South Australian Recreational Fishing Survey 2013–14 (Giri & Hall 2015).

Western Australia

In Western Australia, recreational fishing licences are required for abalone, rock lobster, marron, net fishing, boat fishing and freshwater angling. A statewide recreational boat fishing licence was introduced in 2009, along with new bag limits designed to preserve fish stocks. Seasonal closures are used to control fishing effort for some species, and size and bag limits also apply for most species.

Since 2001, operators in the aquatic tour industry, which includes charter fishing operators, have been required to hold a licence. However, fishers do not need a recreational fishing licence when fishing from a licensed charter vessel. A person fishing from a vessel without a motor does not require a recreational boat fishing licence. Indigenous fishers are not required to hold a recreational fishing licence if the fish are taken for personal use rather than for a commercial purpose.

Results from the WA Department of Fisheries Statewide Survey of Boat-Based Recreational Fishing in 2013–14 were published in late 2015 (Ryan et al. 2015). The survey provides estimates of the quantity of fish retained and released for each Western Australian fishing region. The survey found that 70 per cent of the recreational catch consisted of finfish species, with school whiting being the most caught finfish. For more information about recreational fishing in Western Australia, see the WA Department of Fisheries website.


In Tasmania, a licence for saltwater rod and line fishing is not required, but fishers must hold an Inland Fisheries Licence for inland waters, including some river mouths and estuaries. Recreational fishing licences are needed for collecting abalone, southern rock lobster and scallops and when using graball nets, mullet nets and beach seine nets. Fishing using any type of set line, including dropline or longline, also requires a licence. A range of gear restrictions, bag limits, size limits, seasonal closures and area restrictions apply for abalone, southern rock lobster, shellfish and scalefish.

Indigenous fishers undertaking customary fishing are exempt from the requirement to hold a licence but must comply with all other fisheries rules, such as gear restrictions, possession limits and size and seasonal restrictions. For Indigenous ceremonial activities, permits and exemptions are available.

The Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, carried out the 2012–13 Survey of Recreational Fishing in Tasmania (Lyle et al. 2015).

Survey estimates of recreational fishing participation, landed catch and effort applied the same methodology as the previous state-wide survey by the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment and the Tasmanian Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute (Lyle et al. 2009). Both surveys were funded by the Fishwise Fund.

Other surveys funded through the Tasmanian Fishwise Community Grants programme included assessments of the recreational rock lobster and abalone fisheries (Lyle & Tracey 2012), studies of net fishing and a survey of game fishing in Tasmania (Forbes, Tracey & Lyle 2009). For more information about recreational fishing in Tasmania, see the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment website.

Northern Territory

Recreational fishers are not required to hold a licence to fish in Northern Territory waters, although a temporary licence is needed for recreational fishing on and over Indigenous granted land and adjoining waters. Size and possession limits are the primary catch controls for recreational fishing. Seasonal and area closures also apply for many recreational species.

The NT Government conducted a recreational fishing survey from February   2009 to March 2010. The survey repeated the NRIFS methodology of a telephone screening/participation survey and fisher diary but also included surveys at boat ramps and accommodation establishments in key catchments (West et al. 2012).

The survey found that non-Indigenous Northern Territory residents spent an estimated $47 million annual on goods and services directly related to recreational fishing. Most of this ($33 million) was spent on boats and trailers. The NT Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries recently conducted another recreational fishing survey from February 2016 to March 2017. For more information about recreational fishing in the Northern Territory, see the NT Government website.

Australian Capital Territory

Recreational fishers do not need a licence to fish in the Australian Capital Territory. However, a permit is required when using any type of powered vessel for recreational fishing on urban lakes within Canberra. The main recreational species targeted are Murray cod, golden perch, trout, redfin and European carp. Australian Capital Territory public waters are opened for fishing all year round and are divided into three categories: open waters, permanently closed waters and trout waters. Bag and size limits and seasonal closures apply, as do restrictions on specific fishing gear and bait used for recreational fishing purposes. Enclosed traps, such as bait, minnow and yabby traps, are prohibited in ACT public waters. Some ACT waters are permanently closed to protect native fish species. These species are trout cod, Macquarie perch, silver perch, two-spined blackfish and Murray River crayfish. If caught, these species must be returned to the water unharmed. Australian Capital Territory fishers were included in the 2013–14 New South Wales state-wide recreational fishing survey.

For more information about recreational fishing in the Australian Capital Territory, see the ACT Government Environment and Planning Directorate website.

Commonwealth waters

Recreational fishing undertaken in Commonwealth waters is managed by, and under the management regulations of, the jurisdiction immediately adjacent to those waters. Recreational catch is of particular importance where the target species are also primary targets of commercial fisheries. Griffiths and Pepperell (2006) identified 245 such marine species, including tuna, billfish and deepwater finfish.

In October 2010, Recfish Australia released Recreational fishing in Commonwealth waters: a preliminary assessment, focusing on the level of recreational fishing in Commonwealth waters. The report found that in some regions in 2005–06, particularly Narooma–Bermagui, 47 per cent of fishing trips occurred in Commonwealth waters and generated about $27 million for the local community (Recfish Australia 2010).

Between December 2010 and May 2011, ABARES surveyed game fishers, local businesses and community members at three eastern Australian sites where game fishing tournaments were held several times a year (Ward et al. 2012). The sites were Mooloolaba, Port Stephens and Bermagui. Tournament game fishers surveyed at Mooloolaba averaged 13 game fishing trips to that site, amounting to 15 days per year. Those at Port Stephens averaged six trips (nine days) and those at Bermagui, four trips (11 days) per year. On average, fishers spent $4,625 for a tournament trip to Port Stephens, $2,698 per trip to Bermagui and $2,378 per trip to Mooloolaba.

The net economic value of game fishing was also estimated. This is the ‘use value’ (non-financial) that individuals place on a game fishing trip, in addition to their actual expenditure. The net economic value from a trip to Bermagui ($124 per individual   per trip) was substantially higher than that for Port Stephens ($67), but survey respondents travelled greater distances to experience game fishing in Bermagui.

Last reviewed:
24 Apr 2018